Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from September, 2021.
I. padfoot, n.
They sit cross-legged, back against the fence, head low, next to a rock the size of a football painted in blue and green swirls. They murmur between deep breaths, place a dandelion by the rock, walk back inside their mom's house.
II. mycophilia, n.
Their stepmom is in the kitchen humming to herself, slicing white mushrooms, throwing them into a saucepan. They walk along the wall opposite her, a balance between quick and stealth, in an attempt to avoid any opportunity for her to ask how they’re feeling.
III. whangai, n.
Successfully back in their room unnoticed, they sit on their bed, open their laptop from school, get greeted by a log-in screen with a first name they wish would die, a last name from a woman they wish would leave.
IV. good-sister, n.
“Hey Z,” Layla, their brother’s wife, says as she enters their room. Since their brother’s deployment, Layla has come over each Sunday after her morning shift at Applebee’s. She flops on the bed, releasing a wave of french-fry-scented air.
V. goodsire, n.
“Your grandpa told me dinner should be ready in about an hour,” Layla says as she digs through her apron. “Should be enough time for the next episode of Wild Wild Country.” She retrieves a joint and her lighter, as is tradition.
VI. micromania, n.
While the citizens of Antelope describe how the Rajneeshees overthrew their local government, Z stares at their toes shrinking in the foreground of their laptop’s keyboard. Maybe their whole body with shrivel, finally take up less space. What kind of life is it when your sister-in-law is the only one who uses your name?
VII. mumblecore, n.
They lose the thread when Layla goes on about a movie she watched last week they’ve never heard of. Everything spirals back into place as they realize the episode’s credits are scrolling by. Dinner must be almost ready.
VIII. humidex, n.
After establishing an alibi for their bloodshot eyes, they walk with Layla into the dining room. Sweat drips down their spine. Their neck aches, their breaths shallow.
IX. urbanscape, n.
Luckily, their stepmom doesn’t notice Layla and Z enter the dining room, too busy going on about her trip to the glass museum downtown with her friends and their kids which Z wasn’t invited to.
X. boody, v.
Z experiences dinner through a fog. They eat silently, can’t hear anyone.
XI. gribble, adj.
You can’t be that surprised. You’re not her real kid. She wanted to be with your mom. You were just part of the package. Maybe Nevaeh left your mom because she just wanted to get away from you. You’ve probably always stood in the way of your mom's happiness. You are just a burden. When people talk about pride, they aren’t talking about you. When people talk about liberation, they aren’t talking about you.
XII. necessarium, n.
Put on pajamas. Go to the bathroom. Brush your teeth. Go to sleep. Go to sleep. Go to sleep. A bottle of melatonin. A bathtub and hair dryer. A razor with a loose blade. Go to sleep. Go to sleep. Go to sleep.
XIII. human, adj. and n.
While dreaming, Z isn’t confined to the body they were born in, which locks them in a box people force on them. They can exist in a body free of gender.
XIV. hens and chickens, n.
When Z wakes up, they feel it wash over them in waves. Dread of confinement in a body that doesn’t fit. Pressure to be someone else by everyone around them. Hunted by an idea of who they’re supposed to be.
XV. yom kippur, n.
Not wanting to be a burden to everyone around them, Z takes up less space. They don’t eat. They don’t speak. Maybe this will make up for how much they’ve worn out the people who have had to put up with them.
XVI. spiritdom, n.
After school, Z sits in their backyard watching their dog’s ghost chase squirrels through their mom’s garden.
XVII. min-min, n.
Lights float somewhere above the roof of their house. Closer than a star. Blurry and flat like an out-of-focus comet. They imagine Herry chasing a bone across the Milky Way.
XVIII. urbs, n.
Z thinks about graduation — just a few months away now — then moving to the city for school, maybe, but mostly to get away from this house. In the city, they can be their true self without the shackles of their family, knowing it is also without the stars they can watch Herry chase bones across.
XIX. hearty, adj., n., and adv.
Sometimes, Z isn’t actually sure they’ll make it to graduation. They drag an anchor down every hallway until exhaustion grips their heart and brain and nothing seems worth all the effort.
XX. boohai, n.
alone, engulfed in the smoke from pickups trucks without mufflers.
XXI. tziganologue, n.
What if there is nowhere you will be accepted you for who you are? Maybe no one else will ever call you your name. You may be alone forever.
XXII. paddling pool, n.
Z sits on the side of the cafeteria with friends who forget what their name is, who say it changes too often to deserve extra effort. If high school is this and the future is made of people like them, then why would it be worth getting to.
XXIII. almondine, adj.
Z walks in from the backyard, past the living room where their stepmom sits on the couch eating almonds. She asks “Aaron” if they want any, clearly forgetting their name, their allergy. As usual.
XXIV. garden room, n.
From their room, Z stares out the window toward the backyard. They wonder about the height, how fast they would fall, the force with which they’d land on their stepmom’s tomato plants.
XXV. feastly, adj.
At dinner, they savor every last bite. Their mom, home for dinner for the first time in weeks, takes a large scoop of the macaroni and cheese she spent the evening making. Z eats until their stomach hurts.
XXVI. slow-bellied, adj.
A full stomach, they take slow, deliberate steps up the staircase. Committed, still, to the plan they made completely.
XXVII. pacable, adj.
It used to be bearable, when Herry was alive, when he could comfort them after a hard day. But since he died, each day feels more torturous than the last.
XXVIII. almuten, n.
A force beyond words. A slow crescendo inside their skull. Words they cannot ignore: You are a burden; Nobody wants you here; You do not belong; Everything you touch decays.
XXIX. hat tip, n.
Cold air through an open window. Cold words on crumpled paper. Cold acrylic of a bathtub. Cold steel of a razor blade.
XXX. alogical, adj. and n.
There isn’t really a word for the grief that drowns you when you find your child dead in their bathroom. There especially isn’t a word for the waves of grief and guilt when you find your partner’s kid, who you never particularly cared for, bled white, their final note in your trembling hand.